Friday, July 08, 2005

The Chasm Of Silence

Mom hovered near my bed as I packed. I didn’t look up. There were books and clothes all over the floor and the bed. It was all there was left to pack. In two days I would walk out of here. Mom remained quiet. It was getting on my nerves. I turned around, “Do you want something?” “No,” she said. More silence. I went back to my packing. I wasn’t in the mood to humour her.

After a while, she spoke again, “Is there anything that I can do?” “No,” I said without turning around. “Anything you need?” “No Mom!” I don’t know when she left the room but when I looked to see if she was still there, she was gone.

Mom was sitting in her hammock in the garden when I came home and told her that day. “I’ve got a job in Bombay. I’ll be leaving in a month.” She just looked at me. I was wondering whether she had heard me when she said, “Oh, you’re leaving?” “Yes, at the end of the month.” I walked inside before she could say anything else.

“Dinner’s ready.” She came to my room that night as I was sitting at the computer. “What? Oh, you go ahead mom. I’ll eat later.” We hadn’t eaten together in years. She usually ate first, while watching TV in the hall; I ate later in my room. Mom continued to stand there. I looked up again, “Really Mom, you go ahead. I’ll have dinner later.” She nodded and then went away.

Mom and I kept out of each other’s way mostly. She was 21 when she got married and 22 when she had me. She had wanted to become a doctor but her parents didn’t see the point of it. Dad died at 23 in an accident. I guess it all left her bitter.

I was entrusted to an ayah’s care. Mom plunged headlong into a life of gossip and kitty parties. She never attended school plays or award functions. She did raise an eyebrow though when I stood second in class five. “I guess being the best has become too much for you to handle,” she said as she signed the report card and handed it back to me. I never stood second again.

I think I was 10 when I first made my conscious decision to leave home as soon as I could. I had told her I wanted to learn to play the violin. Some musicians had visited the school that day. “The violin?” she had asked, “Whatever for?”

I dreamt up wild fantasies of escape. One day I would just up and go in the middle of night; climbing down the pipe outside my bedroom window. I would have wild adventures and make a million friends as I backpacked around the world.

Most of my friends planned to go abroad for their post-graduation. When I broached the subject, Mom didn’t refuse. She merely ignored me. That night in my room I cried violently. I even broke a few things. The next morning I braced myself to face her again. She had gone out early that day. She came back only after I had gone to sleep. The next morning all my bravado had fizzled out.

I think it was her way of getting back at the world. Then she had a stroke. I was in the middle of a class when I was called by the principal. I was shocked when I saw her lying on the hospital bed. I had never thought of her as vulnerable.

She was discharged in two weeks. The following days were simply unbearable. There were two nurses to attend to her but she always wanted me around. “Please stay… or do you have something to do?” she would ask looking extremely embarrassed. I was embarrassed too. I would sit there avoiding her eyes; neither of us saying anything to each other.

After she recovered completely, she would keep bumping into me. “Did you have a good day?” “Do you need more money?” “Are you cold?” “Would you like an extra blanket?” “Have you had dinner?” I was completely unnerved. I started staying out later but whatever time I came back home she was always awake. One day I asked her straight out, “Are you waiting for me?” “No, no,” she had smiled, “I’m just not feeling sleepy yet.”

As soon as I graduated I started looking for a job in other cities. When I walked out of the interview room with the offer in my hand, I closed my eyes for a second and mouthed, “Thank You God.”

My room was completely bare. Things that I wasn’t taking with me right now I had kept at a friend’s place. The taxi was waiting. Mom was taking a long time to get to the door. I was getting impatient. I had told her not to come to the airport.

When she came out, she had a package in her hand. “This is for you,” she said handing it to me, “go on, open it.” It was a gold-embossed leather-bound volume of Shakespeare’s sonnets. How did she know I loved Shakespeare? I looked at her quizzically, then said goodbye and got into the taxi. I think there were tears in her eyes.